Defamation Lawsuit Against Online Newspaper Could Set Legal Precedence

A high-profile defamation lawsuit is taking place in Canada. It could have significant impact on future libel lawsuits in the country.

You know the stereotype: Canadians are super nice. Well, don’t be fooled. Our cool cousins to the north can be less than charming when the need arises (heck, ever watch a hockey game?). Evidence of this darker side, which Canadians rarely reveal, is a recent defamation lawsuit coming out of Vancouver. In one corner we have the Georgia Straight (think Vancouver’s Village Voice) and John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Committee for Vancouver’s 2010 games. Accusations of abuse are at the forefront in this online libel lawsuit — and the ruling could be a significant one in Canadian defamation law.

The Facts Of This Defamation Lawsuit

This libel lawsuit started when journalist Laura Robinson wrote an article for the Georgia Straight. In it, she alleged that Furlong, while staying in Canada as a teenager, abused – both physically and emotionally — aboriginal students in Burns Lake.

To back up her story, Robinson had 8 affidavits.

When the story hit, Furlong held a press release within hours. He also announced plans to file a counter defamation lawsuit. The VANOC executive “categorically den[ied] absolutely any wrongdoing.” He insisted that “it JUST did not happen.”

In essence, he left himself very little wiggle room in terms of defamation defense strategies. Keep reading to find out why.

The New “Responsible Communication” Defamation Law Standard

This defamation lawsuit may be amongst the first to test a fairly new Canadian defamation legal precedent – namely, a ruling that says publications and reporters that distribute “responsible communications on matters of public interest” are not liable in the event of a defamation charge. So long as the publisher can prove that reasonable efforts were made to reach the adversary, there’s a chance that the defendant will not be found liable for libel.

Traditionally, truth has been an absolute defense in Canadian defamation lawsuits, and plaintiff’s only had to prove that their reputation was damaged in their community. But with this new ruling, even if the accusations turn out to be 100% false, Robinson may win the case if she can prove that she had solid sources and attempted to contact Furlong, to no avail.

At the time of this writing, Furlong insists he sent several communiques which explained his position; Robinson insists that attempts to reach him went unanswered. The lawyers will duke that one out.

How Would This Defamation Case Probably Play Out In A U.S. Court

Canada is widely considered to have the most plaintiff-friendly defamation laws in the English-speaking world. Unlike slander and libel statutes in the United States, Canadian defamation movants don’t have to prove malice. As a result, in a U.S. court, the edge would probably be given to Robinson in this defamation case – especially since she has the 8 legal affidavits.

That being said, in a US court, if Furlong could prove that the affidavits were acquired haphazardly or inappropriately, then he could possibly wrangle a win from the right judge or jury.

Furlong has gone on record as saying that Robinson’s piece in The Straight “feels very much like a personal vendetta” against him. But the journalist, nor her employer, is backing down. As such, the stage is set for a very public defamation lawsuit.

Want to know more about the differences between United States defamation law and that of other countries? Check out our International Online Defamation Database. If you’re in search of a defamation lawyer, get in touch here.

Yes, I Want to Speak with Someone about an Internet Law Issue »